[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #4 in February 2007]
This issue of AREA is a response to the contemporary criminal justice system, and those assumptions and practices that serve as its foundation. Many people have interrogated whether there is actually any justice in the criminal justice system, and with good cause. The contributors to AREA Chicago: No Justice, No Peace call on us to take that interrogation further, and to talk more about what justice can, should, and does mean for Chicago communities. While AREA seeks to celebrate Chicago communities, it has no intention of romanticizing them. We must acknowledge the reality of the dangers that the criminal justice system is designed to address, while also recognizing how this system functions as one of many threats to community cohesion and coherency. The processes of mass incarceration and mass displacement that shape so much of the Chicago landscape are rewriting the conditions in which community can be built or even defined. Social change is not just is a goal, it is an inescapable reality. The task then becomes, how can we foster security, ensure well-being, and protect human rights amidst such ongoing change?
Our concepts and visions of justice draw from a broad spectrum of ideals. These ideals operate on various understandings of how a society can best create public safety, minimize danger, and repair the damage caused by hazardous and violent acts. Some of us contend that the best way to hold people accountable for harmful behavior is to punish them through the hands of the state. It is often thought that such state-enforced punishment prevents more people from committing harmful acts, while bringing some level of retribution to any individual(s) who may have been hurt by the actions in question. Others believe that families, neighbors, and fellow residents have the power to resolve conflicts and stop violence without relying on the state. As this issue of AREA shows, a growing number of Chicagoans feel strongly that the best place to deal with our loss, our anger, and our grief is actually among those most directly tied to the pain and suffering in question.
From the official space of the judicial courtroom, to the informal conflict resolution that occurs in living rooms and church basements, Chicagoans have many ways of pursuing security and attempting to right wrongs. Our varied methods of making peace and pursuing justice have profound impacts on nearly all aspects of our lives. By emphasizing the interdependent nature of justice and peace, this issue of AREA invites us to deepen our analysis of where danger and insecurity begin. In searching for the roots of conflict, we cannot separate our understanding of violence from the cycles of injustice and legacies of oppression that are quite alive today. All too often, the formal mechanisms for creating public safety are extensions of rather than solutions to these cycles and legacies.
Justice and peace are concepts that demand our full commitment, just as they require our careful scrutiny. These concepts are among our greatest tools for uprooting conflict in our neighborhoods, between our communities, and among ourselves. They beckon us to be proactive about the roles of anger, violence, and oppressive forces in our lives. In the following glossary of the issue’s key terms, AREA initiates a critical exploration of justice, peace, and the relationship between the two.